Extra Credit is a Major Time-Suck!

How to say NO to students, parents, and administrators when they ask about extra credit in your middle school English Language Arts classroom.

“Can I do anything for extra credit since my grade in 7th grade ELA is 88? I really have to have an A!!”

“Can you give little Johnny some extra credit so he can keep his position in the “Top 10” for all 8th graders?”

Um, no.

No, I won’t do that. 

My personal position on the extra credit issue is that I don’t do it. Students have whined about it. Parents have complained about it. Administrators have pressured me to do it. I don’t give in. I used to, sure, years ago, but I changed my mind about it over the past 3-4 years.

I do believe there are some good ways to provide extra credit that provide solid teaching and learning opportunities for students, but doing so requires quite a bit of extra work, extra planning, and extra grading on the part of the teacher. Therefore, I’m totally against teachers doing anything above and beyond what we already go above and beyond to do!

So we’ll just stick with five no-fuss reasons to avoid giving extra credit.

I’ve had such questions come from administrators as well! Some administrators are totally supportive and share the idea that extra credit is a waste of time and that the focus of a class should be on the lessons and material in that class.

On the other hand, I’ve experienced some push-back from administrators who work to appease parents and who will do anything those parents want in order to maintain peace. Therefore, I’ll include actual examples of things I’ve said to students as well as things I’ve said to parents and administrators who ask for extra credit in class.

Here are the top 5 reasons why I absolutely refuse to give any extra credit anymore along with how I justify it to desperate students, demanding parents, and overbearing administrators.


Say NO to Extra Credit in Middle School English Language Arts without an Argument!

#1 It’s Unethical

Even back when I did provide extra credit opportunities, I only did so if it was available to ALL students. In other words, if a few students are hovering at an 87 or 88 and they want to do something extra to get that 90, it’s unethical to allow them to do extra credit to get those extra points if other students don’t have the chance, too. So either offer it to everyone or offer it to no one.

I have seen other teachers get into sticky situations because they let some kids do extra credit and didn’t offer it to others. So even if a student has, let’s say, an 83 in class and you’re thinking, “Oh, he won’t be able to do enough extra credit to make it to a 90” for instance, you could find yourself in an awkward situation if down the road at the end of the semester that student ends up with an 87 or 88 overall while you let another kid do something for extra credit because his mama complained that he only needed one more point to get an A. True story. I’ve seen this happen on more than one occasion!

What I tell students:  I have to treat everyone fairly, and by letting you do extra credit without offering it to the rest of the class isn’t right. No, I’m not going to offer it to the rest of the class because I’m not prepared to do that right now since I’m working on other grades and assignments.

What I tell parents and administrators: To offer extra credit for Jeniah isn’t appropriate because I’m not in a position right now at this point in the grading period to offer it to everyone. It’s unethical for me to provide an extra credit opportunity for one child without providing it to everyone else, too.

#2 It’s Too Much to Grade

Here’s another thought, too– anything extra you assign is going to mean more grading, too!! Just sayin’! The last thing anyone needs is more to grade!

If you’re worried that sounds like “You’re just too lazy to grade it” what you really want to convey with authority is this: “I have to focus my time and attention on the important assignments I have to grade right now. These assignments are carefully chosen and graded with intention. To split my focus between rigorous work and filler work is not productive for anyone.”

That’s what I say to parents and / or administrators who question why I won’t consider providing an extra credit assignment. If someone becomes too pushy with my decision on that, I love adding in the phrase “It isn’t ethical…” or “To do that goes against my ethical code as a teacher…” Of course there’s nothing wrong with a parent asking about extra credit—that’s fine! And I wouldn’t want a “normal” parent who’s just asking to think that she’s unethical just for asking me about it. But if you have a particularly irate parent or a pushy, bullying parent, then you have to be ready to throw down some talk about ethics, which I’ve had to do before because they don’t always accept your response. Yikes!

What I tell students: Right now, we need to focus on today’s assignment and this week’s work instead of looking for something extra to do on top of it. I don’t want to pile on more work for you if you feel like you’re already struggling to earn the best grade possible with our current assignments.

What I tell parents and administrators: The best thing to do right now is to focus on today’s assignment and this week’s assignment. I don’t want Janiah’s focus in class to become split between more work when she should really be focusing on just the most important work.”


There’s An Easier Way to Help & Support Students

Drop the lowest grade— Student choice! No one is perfect and we all mess up from time-to-time. Kids can still have a chance to replace the grade on an assignment they bombed or just missed for whatever reason. Sure, things happen! We all have bad days and so if a kid’s grade has been hovering right at a certain point— say an 80 or a 70 or a 90 or whatever, then why not offer to “drop a grade” for students? It’s no extra work for the teacher, it’s optional for all students, and if parents or students are that concerned with “wanting something extra” then let them choose which assignment to drop. You can limit it to any homework grade, or perhaps any quiz grade, or whatever. I would definitely stay consistent, though. Don’t let Janiah drop a major test grade in order to bump her overall average 16 points while Kirby dropped a daily classwork grade and it basically did nothing to help him. So either say that students can drop one test grade or one classwork grade, or whatever it is. Stay consistent. Also, you may have students who don’t want to drop a grade. Maybe they’re proud of every single assignment and grade and they have a grade they’re happy with. That’s fine. It’s optional. That’s the beauty of it. It gives kids a “break” who had a rough day and it rewards kids who work hard 99% of the time.

What I tell students: Instead of giving you extra work when you really just need to focus on the regular work you have, let’s talk about what it would be like to drop your lowest quiz grade. you’ve had five quizzes over the past eight weeks. If you’d like to drop one, you may. If you have high grades on those quizzes, then you don’t have to drop one if you don’t want to. It’s your choice, but I have to know what you decide to do by next Tuesday. If you don’t tell me what your decision is, then I won’t drop anything.

What I tell parents and administrators: Instead of assigning more work which would take away from the focus of the class, I’m providing the option for students to drop the lowest quiz grade if they choose to do so. That way, if they had a bad day or just bombed one, they can make it disappear so it doesn’t negatively impact all the other good work they’ve done. They have to let me know by next Tuesday what their choice is.


Nothing Extra Can Replace the Original Rigorous Assignment

Stand tall about not giving out extra credit by showcasing how important your regularly assigned lessons are. If your daily activities and tests and everything are that rigorous and if they’re that good, then there is no extra credit work that could ever make up for it. There’s nothing to replace those learning goals. Andrew didn’t complete the compare / contrast essay that you spent all week working on with the class? He refused to work when you pulled a small group of writers to your table for mini-conferences while the rest of the class finished up their introductory paragraphs? All week long he played around, goofed off, slept, ignored your redirections? You emailed or called his home and got little to no response? And now three weeks later he wants extra credit because his grade is low? Ummm…No. That compare / contrast essay was assigned at a strategic point in the scope and sequence of the lesson plans and it was crucial for him to follow along and work on it while you were there and had your class all set up to help him through it. This isn’t about “punishing” Andrew or “getting back” or anything. This is about saying no, you can’t do nothing for a whole week and then suddenly ask for a different assignment (aka “extra credit”) weeks later to make up for it. Now if you want to have that conversation about re-assigning the original compare / contrast paper for him to do, that’s doable. You’re showing him that the natural consequence is that his grade is low now and that he still has to complete the assignment because it was that important of an assignment to his learning! If he or his parents want you to help him with it (which peeves me to no end because why should I do my job twice just because a fully-capable student chose not to work??), then you can always put it back on him:  “Ok, yes, I can help you with the introduction, but it needs to be during your lunch period” or “Yes, I can help, but it’ll have to be after school on Tuesday”. Without punishing yourself, work it so that Andrew will have to stay with you for extra help on a day or time that you already will be doing something school-related for other kids. Remember: Don’t ever give up your personal family time because a kid didn’t do what he was supposed to do. Did Andrew not complete his assignment because he was in a car accident and missed a week of school? Ok, that’s different. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m saying that if you, for example, volunteer after school for chess club, then get your chess club going and then sit off to the side and help Andrew that way. If there’s an after-school detention of some sort, then put him there and then spend the first 10-15 minutes with him there going over the crucial parts of the assignment that he missed. So the point is this: don’t put more stress on yourself by doing anything that takes away from personal obligations in the form of long before- or after-school teaching sessions, or in the form of having to come up with extra credit ideas and then having to grade them all, either!

What I tell students: I understand you want extra credit because you have a bad grade for that essay you didn’t do last week. You know, writing that essay is really important because we’re going to use it again next week in our research process. There’s no extra credit you can do to make up for it. You really just have to do the assignment. It’s that important for what we’re doing next in Language Arts. Tell you what— You can come in during lunch tomorrow or you can stay after school on Tuesday while I’m here for Chess Club and I’ll help you with part of it. When do you want to come in?

What I tell parents and administrators: Writing that essay is really important because we’re going to use it again next week in our research process. There’s no extra credit he can do to make up for it. Andrew really just has to do the assignment. It’s that important for what we’re doing next in Language Arts. I told him that his welcome to come in during lunch tomorrow or he can stay after school on Tuesday while I’m here for Chess Club and I’ll help him with it as much as I can.

This is crucial because as teachers, we don’t ever want to make it seem that our assignments are not important, or that they can be “excused away” by some other, random extra credit. We’re showing students, parents, and administrators that our assignments are targeted, important, and necessary and that they will be done.

#5 Extra Credit Won’t Help with This Year’s Skills or Next Year’s Skills

Take a look at the standards you have to follow for teaching your students. Whether you’re on Common Core or not, the standards are so close and so similar between Common Core and Non-Common Core statesin meaning and goals for all students that as teachers, it’s a struggle to fit it all in! Because of this, there’s no room for anything extra at all! “Extra” work on top of what was already assigned isn’t going to help meet the academic goals we have for our students.

What I tell students: Let me show you want the state (or nation) demands that you be able to do in this course (I pull up the standards online from the CCSS website or from whatever website your state or district has set up that has the standard listed). Ok, here it says RL.8.3 (or whatever it is). You have to be able to “use text evidence to support understanding” (or whatever it says). So I can’t give you an extra credit assignment when you barely completed this one. See? You must be able to do this. I will help you of course, but there’s no replacement for this work. There’s no extra credit work that will replace you practicing this skill.

What I tell parents and administrators: The state (or nation) says that Drake has to be able to “use text evidence from multiple sources to support understanding” and that’s exactly what the assignment last week was for. He did one question on it, but then he didn’t do the rest. My job is make sure he’s able to exhibit mastery with that skill. Next school year, he will have to take it a step further and do even more with it. I don’t want him to fall behind and not be ready for next year’s material. That’s why I can’t replace that assignment with extra credit. He really has to be able to do the work I originally assigned him.

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